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by Hib Halverson


 

 
 

 

The leader in sports car suspension damping technology right now is the 2003 Corvette with its available, Magnetic Selective Ride Control. Image: author.

I hit the last dip at 100 or so, on the brakes, getting ABS as the rear suspension kissed the rebound stops, then back-shifted for a right at the end of the straight.

Suddenly, I thought of Star Wars.

Remember Episode Oneís pod race? Anakin Skywalker and some really ugly aliens are racing across a desert on Tatooine. As Anakin skims balls-out, just above the ground, other pods crash in flaming wrecks. He hits turbulence. All kinds of stuff is blowing-up, right, left and underneath. Pod races are tougher than Winston Cup at Bristol.


Though the ride is rough, young Skywalker always has his racer under control. No doubt, his pod has some amazing ride control system which damps the bumps and dips.

Back in the 21st Century, at the "Milford Proving Ground", General Motorsí enormous test facility 32 miles northwest of Detroit, there is a section called the "Ride and Handling Loop." Itís a torturous, four-miles of chatter-bumps, dips, pot holes and rail crossings mixed with sharp turns, esses and sweepers. To Mike Neal, Corvetteís ride-and-handling engineer; the "R/H Loop" is, well...a home away from home.

The Loopís backstretch is half-a-mile of whatís either the worst (if youíre a highway engineer) or the sweetest (if your testing suspensions) bunch of dips one can imagine.

Driving an í03, 50th Coupe at 100 over this stuff seemed like racing Aniís pod. Well ok, no open cockpit and no after-burning turbofans out front, but it did have a Star Wars ride control system.

I was on the R/H Loop to learn about Corvetteís latest suspension advancement. Chevy Marketing wizards call it "Magnetic Selective Ride Control" (MSRC). Engineers at General Motors and the Delphi Corporation who developed it, call it "MagneRide" or just "MR".

Mike Neal and I were in a "MR car," making one hundred mile per hour passes across these dips. The car was fully controllable. It wasnít getting airborne. We werenít getting bounced severely in our seats.

The meanest of the R/H Loopís dips is off by itself on the front straight. About eight feet long and 10-inches deep, itís the only one marked with a sign: "Bad Dip".

   
 

Here we are at the Milford Proving Groundís infamous "Bad Dip." Mike Neal was at the wheel of a base car. This flight was the result of a 60 mph pass.
Image: author.

 

 

Same dip.
Same speed but, this time, Neal is in a 50th Car with MagneRide. Quite a difference!
Image: author.

 
At 80, Neal and I freaking flew a base C5 over itĖ"Dukes of Hazard" stuff, probably 18-inches up, airborne for 25 ft and my fat self flung up against the seat belt then smashed down in the seat.

In a MR car at the same speed, the difference was astonishing. We didnít get air and didnít bounce around inside the car as much.

"Hey Mike, whatís the fastest youíve gone across that sucker?"

"120, but we uh...werenít gonna let journalists do that."

"Next time, Iím taking it at 120."

"Ah...ok but stay in the center and hold it straight."

How often has Neal has seen life flash before him when crazed magazine guys do this stuff?

I came off the Loopís west-end sweeper in third, at 100 with my foot flat on the floor. I tagged the LS1ís limiter, got fourth and held 120 across some smaller dips and rough pavement. In the distance I saw the sign and, a split second later, the scrape marks in the pavement.

Whump! Ka-Thunk.

No long flight through the air, though the rear wheels did get off a few inches. We got bounced around, but much less than in the base-car at 80.

Iíve been writing about Corvette suspensions since the early 1980s and Iíve gotta tell you: Magnetic Selective Ride Control is some pretty amazing suspension technology or as Yoda might say, "Very Star Wars, this MR stuff is."

Meet Mike Neal. Since the mid-í90s, heís been the "guy" for Corvette ride-and-handling. Much of how a C5 feels when you go fast through the twisties comes from this manís work. Neal seemingly has nerves of steel and lots of life insurance because, when told by crazed journalists they want to do the Bad Dip at Milford at 120 mph, he shrugs then suggests they "...keep it straight." Either that or we writers really donít go that fast and heís humoring us.
Image: author.

 
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